Indonesia — The Indonesian Military (TNI) and the United States Army Pacific Command (US ARPAC) launched a joint-training program on combating forest and peat land fires in Riau province Monday.
The five-day exercise aims to develop standard operating procedures for the annual forest fire season in the province. Satellite data for the first six months of this year showed that Riau contained the highest density of hot spots, or small fires of high risk, in Indonesia, accounting for nearly 5,000. Almost a quarter of these hot spots are burning slowly within oil palm concession areas.
The fires currently burning across Sumatra, particularly in Riau, have added to worsening haze in the region and global climate change, and threaten many species in the forests diverse ecosystems.
TNI training program designer, Lt. Col. Jorry S. Loloay, said the event involved dozens of TNI personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force and 13 members from the US ARPAC.
It will also see 350 representatives from state agencies and estate companies in Riau, as well as military envoys from Thailand and Singapore, acting as observers.
Jorry said the exercise was divided into a two-day workshop and a simulation of forest fire management in Siak Hulu district in Kampar regency. The drill will be attended by US ARPAC military top officer Maj. Gen. Patrick Wilson.
“During the workshop we will compare the techniques mastered by the TNI and US ARPAC in coping with forest fires. We hope to share experiences which could later be combined to acquire the most effective measures to manage forest fires, especially in decision-making and field operation,” Jorry told The Jakarta Post in Pekanbaru on Monday.
He said the program was the third of its kind between the TNI and US ASPAC held in the past three years. A similar training program was first held in 2007 in Pelabuhan Ratu, West Java, followed by the tsunami mitigation training program in Padang last year.
“The fact Riau happened to be chosen this year at the same time fires were burning was merely coincidence. The area was selected for training because of its history dealing with difficult forest and peat land fires. Operational funds for the joint effort are covered by both parties,” said Jorry.
Bukit Barisan Military Command chief, Maj. Gen. Burhanuddin Amin, said the tests during the fire simulation would include training at command posts and methods of extinguishing fires.
“The simulation focuses on decision-making procedures by involving the relevant government agencies and societal elements,” Burhanuddin said at a press conference following the official launch of the program.
“The aim of this exercise is to manage forest fires and their impact, such as haze, that has often drawn complaints from neighboring countries due to the health hazards and flight safety risks posed by the smoke.”
Riau Vice Governor, HR Bambang Mit, who also heads the Riau Forest and Peatland Fire Management Center, said he was very grateful for the initiative being run by the TNI and US ARPAC, and hoped the program would provide the Riau authorities with new skills for tackling forest fires.
“Riau is in dire need of standard operating procedures for preventing forest fires,” Mambang said.